Background Inflammation drives atherosclerotic plaque rupture. Although inflammation can be measured using fluorine-18-labeled fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography ([18F]FDG PET), [18F]FDG lacks cell specificity, and coronary imaging is unreliable because of myocardial spillover.
Objectives This study tested the efficacy of gallium-68-labeled DOTATATE (68Ga-DOTATATE), a somatostatin receptor subtype-2 (SST2)-binding PET tracer, for imaging atherosclerotic inflammation.
Methods We confirmed 68Ga-DOTATATE binding in macrophages and excised carotid plaques. 68Ga-DOTATATE PET imaging was compared to [18F]FDG PET imaging in 42 patients with atherosclerosis.
Results Target SSTR2 gene expression occurred exclusively in “proinflammatory” M1 macrophages, specific 68Ga-DOTATATE ligand binding to SST2 receptors occurred in CD68-positive macrophage-rich carotid plaque regions, and carotid SSTR2 mRNA was highly correlated with in vivo 68Ga-DOTATATE PET signals (r = 0.89; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.28 to 0.99; p = 0.02). 68Ga-DOTATATE mean of maximum tissue-to-blood ratios (mTBRmax) correctly identified culprit versus nonculprit arteries in patients with acute coronary syndrome (median difference: 0.69; interquartile range [IQR]: 0.22 to 1.15; p = 0.008) and transient ischemic attack/stroke (median difference: 0.13; IQR: 0.07 to 0.32; p = 0.003). 68Ga-DOTATATE mTBRmax predicted high-risk coronary computed tomography features (receiver operating characteristics area under the curve [ROC AUC]: 0.86; 95% CI: 0.80 to 0.92; p < 0.0001), and correlated with Framingham risk score (r = 0.53; 95% CI: 0.32 to 0.69; p <0.0001) and [18F]FDG uptake (r = 0.73; 95% CI: 0.64 to 0.81; p < 0.0001). [18F]FDG mTBRmax differentiated culprit from nonculprit carotid lesions (median difference: 0.12; IQR: 0.0 to 0.23; p = 0.008) and high-risk from lower-risk coronary arteries (ROC AUC: 0.76; 95% CI: 0.62 to 0.91; p = 0.002); however, myocardial [18F]FDG spillover rendered coronary [18F]FDG scans uninterpretable in 27 patients (64%). Coronary 68Ga-DOTATATE PET scans were readable in all patients.
Conclusions We validated 68Ga-DOTATATE PET as a novel marker of atherosclerotic inflammation and confirmed that 68Ga-DOTATATE offers superior coronary imaging, excellent macrophage specificity, and better power to discriminate high-risk versus low-risk coronary lesions than [18F]FDG. (Vascular Inflammation Imaging Using Somatostatin Receptor Positron Emission Tomography)
We provide gene-, cell-, plaque-, and patient-level data demonstrating that SST2 PET imaging using 68Ga-DOTATATE provides a quantifiable, cell-specific marker of atherosclerotic inflammation that outperforms [18F]FDG in the coronary arteries. Further work is needed to confirm these findings in a larger patient population and to compare imaging with clinical outcomes. 68Ga-DOTATATE PET offers measurement of both generalized atherosclerotic disease activity and detailed information about local plaque functional phenotype to complement multimodal assessments of anatomic, morphologic, and hemodynamic disease severity. This approach, in selected patient populations, has the potential to improve CVD risk prediction, allowing personalized tailoring of therapies aimed to improve clinical outcomes.